What goes up most come down is a common enough expression. But it seems successive Chancellors don’t believe that applies to beer duty. Having read the furore that Stonch’s missive somehow sparked off (forget brothels, IPA strength is where the real arguments lie), it got me thinking about beer. No surprise there, I hear you say. Specifically, beer strength historically, and the impact of government duty on the pricing of beer. Which, after a recent conversation, led me to pose the interesting question-when was the last time beer duty actually went down? And no, I don’t know the answer.
We are so conditioned to accept that governments want their piece of flesh that each yearly rise is met with but a shrug of the shoulders. Except for this year, when our complacency was rewarded by Mr Darling’s exercise in urine extraction. His exercise in daylight robbery without violence was very cheeky indeed, considering we actually needed a cut in duty. I have kindly pointed this out to him, but so far he hasn’t blessed me with his thoughts on the matter. Anyway, no one seems to recall when it was last reduced-hence the acceptance I suppose. But this wasn’t always the case and there’s no reason why it should be now.
The problem has been growing worse since 1979 as the taxation burden has fallen more and more on indirect taxes. It’s neither big nor clever, and yet Norman Lamont actually seemed inordinately proud of the fact. Does no one sit O-level Economics anymore? Anyway, the best budget that I can personally recall was under NL’s successor, Kenny Clarke in 1995. Unbelievably, he froze beer duty, and slashed 4% off spirits. Those were the days! I do remember my father being particularly disgusted with Denis Healey for putting spirits up by 64p in 1975, and the following year he really put the screws on by adding VAT to duty.
As with licensing, the two World Wars seem to have adversely affected government attitudes to beer duty. Beer strength gradually reduced and prices increased while duty reductions became less and less common. I intend to illustrate this point with some local knowledge and perhaps contrast this with the national scene at the time. However, my little jaunt to Ireland has left me detoxed, dehydrated, and desperate for a drink. So, for now, adieu…